Terminal World

November 4, 2012

What if disturbances in the fabric of spacetime enforced technological disparities between parts of a city?

Alastair Reynolds is fast becoming one of my favorite sci-fi writers. I discovered him through two excellent short stories found on Huffduffer, “Scales” (audio, 11 min.) and “The Sledgemaker’s Daughter” (audio, 1 hr.) The first is a dizzying piece of hard sci-fi about the ever-escalating scale of war; the second, a patient pastoral rather like sci-fi if it were written by Da Vinci. Together they impressed me with Reynolds’ range and skill as a storyteller.

Terminal World was the first of Reynolds’ novels I picked up. It begins with an amazing premise: its setting, Spearpoint, is a massive spire of a city whose neighborhoods, from bottom to top, are Horsetown, Steamville, Neon Heights, Circuit City, and the Celestial Levels. As you might guess from the names, and for mind-bending reasons that are ultimately revealed, each level of the city (and its inhabitants) can exist only within a certain level of technological advancement.

The story follows Quillon, early reveled as a posthuman “angel” from the Celestial levels who is somehow hiding out (remember, the city’s denizens can’t survive outside their own level) in Neon Heights. When other angels lose their lives trying to find him, the pace gets going and never lets up.

The novel has everything–a far-ranging and adventurous plot, strong characters with conflicting goals, embattled factions and uncertain alliances, and what might be described as astrophysical intrigue. Oh, and zeppelins. Plenty of zeppelins.